The coastal views and landscapes of Scotland’s Northern Edge are breathtaking – sometimes quite literally!
As the wind whips in off the Pentland Firth and snatches the very breath from your mouth. Standing here on the northern edge of mainland Britain you are moved to reflect on the awesome, unstoppable power of the sea and the equally indomitable strength of the ancient rock beneath your feet, the two locked together in a timeless and never-ending battle.
Scotland’s Northern Edge Tour Highlights
- The famous Stacks of Duncansby
- Journey’s End signpost at John O’Groats
- Summer gardens at the Castle of Mey
- The magical Smoo Cave
- The uninhabited island of Handa
- Comfortable coach travel throughout – with pick-ups available from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Kinross, Perth or Inverness
- 4 nights’ hotel accommodation with dinner, bed and breakfast – 2 nights staying at the Kinlochbervie Hotel, Kinlochbervie and 2 nights staying at the Station Hotel, Thurso
- Services of a professional tour manager
*Please note, feeder coaches may also be available subject to minimum numbers, from Aberdeen, Montrose, Arbroath & Dundee
Single supplements apply – £180. Offer subject to availability.
Scotland’s Northern Edge Itinerary
We depart from our designated pick-up points and head north, stopping en route for refreshments.
From Inverness our route takes us via Tain and Bonar Bridge to Lairg and Loch Shin. At one time the majority of the inhabitants in Lairg area resided on the high moorlands and straths, with the children of tenanting shepherds walking miles to school over rugged hill paths, but gradually these dwellings have been vacated in favour of a move down to the more accessible present village on the southern shores of the loch, which developed from around 1812.
In the 1950s a hydro-electric dam was constructed which raised the level of Loch Shin by over 30 feet and it now forms one of the major attractions of the area, complete with a spectacular salmon leap.
We continue via Loch More and Laxford Bridge to Kinlochbervie on the tip of the north-west coastline. Our accommodation is at the Kinlochbervie Hotel which overlooks the busy fishing harbour.
All rooms have private facilities with TV, telephone and tea/coffee making facilities. We arrive at the hotel in time for dinner.
Following breakfast this morning we will depart for Tarbet, where we catch the little shuttle ferry Equinox for the short crossing to Handa Island, where we will be free to explore at leisure.
If you have them, remember your binoculars today! There is a 6km circular path and visitors are asked to remain on the path or boardwalk at all times – please note good walking shoes or boots are advised.
As we walk round the island, look out for seabirds such as guillemots, razorbills, great and arctic skuas to name but a few.
In addition to the birdlife, there are also the archaeological remains of an old village which was inhabited until 1847 and a profusion of interesting wild flowers. After spending around three hours on the island, we will catch the ferry back to Tarbet.
Please note that some areas of the island are very steep. Please wear appropriate footwear and take extra care, remaining on the path or boardwalk at all times.
We return to our hotel for dinner.
This morning after breakfast we leave the hotel and set out on our journey across Scotland’s northern edge.
We travel first to Smoo Cave which has the largest entrance of any sea cave in the British Isles. Recent excavations show that the cave was in use 6000 years ago by the earliest settlers in the north.
The “blowhole” and waterfall can be observed from an observation point above the cave.
There is also a recent memorial to celebrate the life of John Lennon who regularly came to Durness on holiday as a boy.
We continue to Tongue, whose name Tongue has old Norse origins, though fairly obvious: it comes from “tunga”, a tongue of land projecting into the loch.
Although the Norse people probably lived here between the 900 and 1200, nothing certain has been found of their settlement.
When Thomas Telford completed the road south to Lairg in 1828, Tongue changed from being an island community relying on the sea for its communications.
When the road to Thurso followed in 1836 a daily coach service ran and during the rest of the 1800s efforts to complete the road west to Durness continued.
We move on to the Strathnaver Museum, Bettyhill.
Located in the former church of St Columba which was built in 1700, the museum takes you on a journey from the mystical past of prehistory to the emergence of the Clan Mackay, the tragedy of the Highland Clearance and you will discover the vibrant culture of today, inherited from our Norse and Gaelic ancestors.
Strathnaver is one of the principal sites of the Highland Clearances.
In 1814, the “year of the burning”, as many as 15,000 people were cleared from the one and a half million acre estate of the Duke of Stafford (later made the Duke of Sutherland) to increase the income from the land by letting it to sheep farmers.
Many emigrated to North America and never returned. Driving along this single track road beside the River Naver it is hard not to be moved by the thought of the terrible loss and upheaval that people here suffered.
We continue to Thurso and our accommodation at the Station Hotel, Thurso.
All rooms have private facilities with TV, telephone and tea/coffee making facilities.
Dinner is served in the evening.
This morning, after breakfast, we visit Duncansby Head, the north eastern tip of the Scottish mainland.
The single track road from John O’ Groats emerges at the lighthouse which was built in 1924 and became automated in 1997.
With views north over Orkney and west to John O’ Groats and Dunnet Head, a well trodden path brings us to the first sight of the Geo of Sclaites, a huge cleft bitten deeply into the cliffs with a natural arch. Further along the cliff top there are stunning views south to Thirle Door and the jagged rocks and arches known as the Stacks of Duncansby.
Our next visit is to John O’ Groats, the landmark at the “end of the road”, the northernmost corner of Britain, 874 miles from Lands End.
There are shops, ferry, exhibitions and a museum (of sorts) but the scenery is what it is all about here and it is magnificent with panoramic views over the stormy waters of the Pentland Firth to Orkney.
This is a seabird haven with puffins, shags, fulmars, kittiwakes, gulls and gannets and many more species nesting in their thousands on the rock ledges.
We continue to The Castle of Mey the former holiday home of the late Queen Mother. Originally Barrogill Castle it was first seen by the late Queen Mother in 1952, while mourning the death of her husband King George VI.
Falling for its ruined, isolated charm she declared she would save the castle from ruin. Having acquired the most northerly castle on the British mainland, she renovated and lovingly restored it and for over half a century she spent her summers here and created the beautiful gardens you see today.
We continue on to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on mainland Britain with some of the most extensive views to be found anywhere in northern Scotland.
We return to the hotel in time for dinner.
This morning after breakfast we leave the hotel and begin our homeward journey, travelling first through the fertile plain around the Thurso River then across moorland to the coast.
We then hug the coast all the way to Tain, at which point we complete our circular tour. We retrace our route south along the A9 and return to our original pick-up points in the late evening.